Welcome to our weekly discussion of the ways that world news, the Word of God, and our own lives intersect. The material in this post is drawn from The Wired Word (thewiredword.com). Please feel free to join in the discussion throughout the week by adding your own responses and experiences in the "comments" section (click on "comments" at the end of the post to add your comments), then continue the conversation with other members in person on Sunday at Coffee Hour! Blessings, Sylvia+
Pope Visits Sweden to Commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation
In the News
On Monday, the 499th anniversary of German monk Martin Luther's posting of 95 theses on the door of the Catholic cathedral in Wittenberg, Pope Francis co-hosted an ecumenical prayer service in Sweden with leaders of the Lutheran Church. The service launches a year of celebration leading up to the quincentenary of the Protestant Reformation.
The visit by Pope Francis was particularly remarkable, since Luther's resistance to papal authority, the sale of indulgences to purchase pardon for sins, and protest against excesses and abuses within the church led to his excommunication as a heretic, the church split known as the Protestant Reformation, and decades of brutal religious wars in Europe.
While Swedish society is primarily secular, the state church is Lutheran. Since the 1500s, Catholics in Sweden suffered persecution, discrimination and even death.
In the past, Pope Francis has painted Luther as "an intelligent man" who rightly called for reform of a corrupt, worldly church that "was not a role model [but stained by] ... greed and lust for power."
At the celebration this week, the pope stated that "the Reformation helped give greater centrality to sacred Scripture in the church's life."
"We must look with love and honesty at our past, recognizing error and seeking forgiveness," he said, calling on Catholics and Lutherans to "mend" history.
While Catholic-Lutheran relations have been particularly marked by periods of tension and hostility in the past, Christians of all persuasions face the challenge of how to relate to those with whom they disagree.
One of the principal issues dividing Lutherans and Roman Catholics was resolved in 1999, when the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) co-signed a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, which states in part:
In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.
Relations between Roman Catholics and Lutherans took further large strides this year with the adoption of "Declaration on the Way" by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which outlines 32 "Statements of Agreement" between Lutherans and Catholics regarding church, ministry and the Eucharist.
Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden of Baltimore, the Catholic co-chairman of the joint task force of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the ELCA that developed the declaration, said he hoped the bishops would endorse it as well.
"Though we have not yet arrived, we have claimed that we are, in fact, on the way to unity," ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton said after the assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve the document. "After 500 years of division and 50 years of dialogue, ... this 'Declaration on the Way' helps us to realize more fully our unity in Christ with our Catholic partners, but it also serves to embolden our commitment to unity with all Christians."
Lutherans and Roman Catholics are still divided on other issues, such as the nature of the Universal Church, the authority of the pope, the role of women in church leadership, and the nature of the Eucharist (Communion).
Rev. Martin Junge, general secretary of the LWF, told reporters that "people feel lack of unity the heaviest around the [Lord's] table." For centuries, Christians have been barred from partaking of the Eucharist in Catholic churches (though TWW team member Heidi Mann says she's received it, simply by going forward; in her experience, priests don't stop and ask what a visitor's denomination is). But by official position, it is Catholic barring of Lutherans; Lutherans (in the LWF anyway -- not Missouri Synod and a few other conservative branches of Lutheranism) practice "open Communion."
In a joint statement issued in Lund, Sweden, this week, the Roman Catholic Church and the LWF acknowledged that this has been a source of pain especially for family members "who share their whole lives, but cannot share God's redeeming presence at the Eucharistic table. We long for this wound in the body of Christ to be healed" by bringing members of both churches together at the Lord's table, "no longer strangers."
Pope Francis said that while theological differences still exist, the two churches can join forces to serve the poor and refugees, and to fight persecution of Christians. A hallmark of this pope's legacy is his effort to build bridges to other parts of the Christian family, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as to people of other faiths, such as Islam and Judaism.
Rev. Jens-Martin Kruse of the Lutheran Church in Rome described the pope's approach as "walking ecumenism." In the act of "walking together," Kruse said, "we find that we have ... more in communion than we thought before."
Teresa Jodar, a resident of Stockholm who attended the celebration earlier this week, agreed. "I am a Catholic," she said. "The Reformation ... was a sad separation. But we are celebrating taking a step closer. It is wonderful that we can work together instead of thinking about all of the differences that separate us."
More on this story can be found at these links:
The Pope Commemorates The Reformation That Split Western Christianity. NPR
Reformation Day: Pope Francis Marks Luther Anniversary in Sweden. BBC News
Pope Francis, in Sweden, Urges Catholic-Lutheran Reconciliation. The New York Times
ECLA Approves Lutheran-Catholic Ecumenical Document. ECLA
Catholic-Lutheran Document Sums Up Agreements, Maps Steps to Full Unity. Catholic News Service
Declaration on the Way. ELCA
The Big Questions
1. How have relations between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches changed in your lifetime? Do you see the overtures for better relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church (and other Protestant groups) as a positive or a negative development? How did you arrive at your viewpoint?
Confronting the News With Scripture and Hope
Here are some Bible verses to guide your discussion:
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! (For context, read 133:1-3.)
This psalm exalts the virtue and pleasure that belong to people who are joined together by God's grace. In the context verses, this common life is compared to two liquids: oil and dew.
When Aaron was consecrated as a priest (Leviticus 8:12) he was anointed with a fragrant oil made of four spices, myrrh, cinnamon, cane and cassia, mixed with olive oil (Exodus 30:23-25, 30). The image is of very different substances, which, when combined, produced a rich, distinctive perfume unique to the priestly class. When God brings people together in unity from radically different backgrounds, anyone in the vicinity will notice that these people are different.
The unity of the people of God is like the fleeting morning dew, which may seem inconsequential, but which is essential to bring life to an arid land. While unity is a blessing to the people of God themselves, it is capable of blessing everyone who comes in contact with them as well.
Questions: Is it possible to be united as a church while members have significant disagreements? In church relations, how much agreement must be present between the parties for unity to exist? Are there any relationship qualities short of unity that are still godly ways to work with others for the kingdom of God?
How have you experienced the goodness and pleasure of living together in unity among God's people, in spite of differences? When have you seen a united church bring blessing and life to people beyond the walls of the church itself?
Acts 2:1, 4, 6, 11-12
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. ... All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. ... And ... each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. ... "speaking about God’s deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" (For context, read 2:1-12.)
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples stayed together in Jerusalem, waiting for the gift of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus had promised to give them. They spent much time in prayer, and so they were still together on the day of Pentecost when they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak about God's mighty acts of deliverance.
Questions: What is the significance of the fact that they spoke in many languages, rather than just in one? If they had all spoken in their own native tongue of Aramean, what do you think would have happened to their faith community? What does this event on the Day of Pentecost
Responding to the News
1. Consider visiting a service at another church, not of your present denomination, with the goal to better understand what is common and what is different. If you have already done this, consider visiting a house of worship outside the Christian faith with the same goal.
O God, in the relationship of the persons of the Trinity we glimpse the kind of oneness to which you call us as believers. Teach us to treat one another with the same kind of love and respect that flow among Father, Son and Holy Spirit. May the unity you create among us reveal your oneness to people of every tongue and nation, to the glory of your name. Amen.
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